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Santa Monica City Council Sends Lobbying Ordinance Back Again

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

October 29, 2015 -- First it was too complicated; then it was too simple.  Now, the Santa Monica City Council is hoping to get its ordinance for registering lobbyists just right, voting Tuesday to send it back to the drawing board again, this time for more specifics.

“Not ready for prime time,” Council member Sue Himmelrich said of the proposed ordinance.

After much debate among the Council members, the proposed law was returned to City Attorney Marsha Moutrie on 6-to-0 vote. She was instructed to rework specific language involving updates on who is being lobbied and how much is being spent, among other information.

Meant to increase transparency in City government, the proposed law has been hard to nail down. Although no one spoke at Tuesday’s public hearing on the issue, the activist group Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) attacked the ordinance as soon as it was publically available last week, saying it was so weak it could have been written by lobbyists.

On Tuesday, the simplified version appeared headed for approval by the Council, which tried to make some on-the-spot fixes.  But the proposal was postponed in the end so Moutrie could address requests by the Council for more complete information from lobbyists.

“I don’t want an ordinance of this kind to be done off the dais,” Mayor Kevin McKeown said.

Among the details Council members want lobbyists to disclose are the names of new clients within 10 days and quarterly reports to the City of expenditures by lobbyists on issues related to the Santa Monica business. The Council also asked for minor changes to the measure’s language.

Moutrie said she would rework the ordinance, “making sure not to trample on anybody’s First Amendment Rights.”

As it now stands, a “lobbyist” is defined in the proposed ordinance as anyone “who receives economic consideration as the employee, representative or contractor of a person or entity other than the City of Santa Monica for communicating with any elected official, officer or employee of the City for the purpose of influencing a legislative or administrative action.”

The proposed law is modeled on one used by West Hollywood.  Several other nearby cities also require lobbyists to register, including Los Angeles and Beverly Hills.

The first version of the lobbyist registration law was sent back to the City Attorney’s Office in July as being too complex. The Council directed Moutrie to come back with a simplified ordinance.

That’s what went before the Council on Tuesday. Eliminated were a requirement for quarterly disclosure of financial and client data and a list of actions from which lobbyist are prohibited.

Under that version, only the City is able to enforce regulations. Previously, the law allowed individuals to bring civil action against alleged violators.

The complexity of the issue was apparent during the Council’s discussion.  Much of it centered on a debate over what constitutes lobbying, as opposed to imparting factual information and if officials are required to disclose having a cup of coffee with someone involved a matter of City business.

Sometimes it’s not easy to tell when a Councilmember is being lobbied, said Moutrie and Council member Gleam Davis.

Santa Monica is a small town, Davis said. And extremely political.

“There is no such thing as purely social occasions,” Davis said.

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